England's health service says hospitals hit by 'ransomware' attack

In a statement, the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust said: "Today (Friday, 12 May 2017), the trust has experienced a major IT problem, believed to be caused by a cyberattack".

NHS England said they are "aware of the issue and are looking into it".

An NHS Digital spokesman said: "At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed".

In a security alert, the Spanish National Centre for Cryptology stated: "The ransomware, a version of WannaCry, infects a computer, encrypting all its files and, using a remote code execution vulnerability through the SMB (server message block), distributes itself to the rest of the Windows machines connected to the same network".

In Britain on Friday, hospitals were hit by large-scale cyber attacks, the Guardian newspaper reported.

This latest attack, a variant of one seen earlier in the year called WCry, or WanaCryptor, demands $300 of bitcoin to be sent to an account that had never received any payments before today - but at the time of writing had received two $300 payments. People in affected areas were being advised to seek medical care only in emergencies. Most of the affected hospitals were in England, but several facilities in Scotland also reported being hit. Still, the news prompted security teams at large financial services firms and businesses around the world to review their plans for defending against ransomware attacks, according to executives with private cyber security firms. Many canceled all routine procedures and asked patients not to come to the hospitals unless it was an emergency.

Microsoft issued a security update on March 14 about vulnerabilities in the Windows system.

Others have shared images of the screenshot that shows the ransom demand.

Among the other organisations thought to be affected are universities, as well as institutions and businesses in other countries - it is thought that the attack is the same strain of malware behind a series of attacks on businesses in Spain, which includes Telefonica and Iberdrola.

Health officials offered no indication of when services might return to normal, or whether patient records could be permanently lost to the attack. If the victim of the hack has robust backups of their system, ransomware is relatively easy to defeat: any affected computers can be wiped and restored from a backup.

At this stage the extent of the attack is unclear, but a number of hospitals have already confirmed that systems are unusable due to the malicious software.

Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford and Colchester Hospital are among 16 Hospital trusts and GP Groups nationally reporting problems.

But, the spokesperson also said that this kind of attack cames as no surprise.

An NHS Western Isles spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that we have been affected but can't confirm to what extent at the moment".

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